So there I was recently, playing Goat Simulator, as you do during boring phone calls. When I quit, I looked at my Steam library, and noticed this game, Scourge: Outbreak. I didn’t remember buying it, and turns out I didn’t.

A year or three back I got Scourge Project in some kind of Steam sale deal, and I played for five minutes and quit. Turns out that Scourge: Outbreak is a remake of that game, and they gave it free to everyone on Steam who owned the original.

I honestly couldn’t remember anything about that game, so I thought I might as well install it and give it a try.

Start it up. Unskippable ad videos telling me it uses the Unreal engine and other time-wasting crap. Ugh. Why?

Really, just why? A new player starts up your game, excited to try it, and you make them sit through a minute or so of ad videos.

Who, exactly, in the game companies thinks this is a good idea?

Starting a new game gives you a choice between four different characters, and some guff about what each one is best at, but who cares? I picked the girl, because it’s a third-person game, and I’m going to be staring at someone’s butt while playing, so it might as well be hers.

So, on to the cut-scenes. At least they’re skippable, unlike Mass Effect‘s half-hour streams of boredom. Then the optional tutorial, which demonstrates how your character walks miserably slowly on their way to shoot a few things. Which is where you first learn some of the game’s horrible flaws.

The first is that the graphics are pretty dismal, even by console standards. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from a free game, but it delivered less. It looks as bad as Mass Effect on a bad day.

It’s another game with a ‘cover’ system requiring you to use special commands to hide behind cover, rather than just, you know, hiding behind cover. Any game that needs a cover system is just admitting that its user interface is horribly broken.

Oh, OK, it’s clearly a console game, so obviously its user interface is horribly broken.

You can only carry two weapons, because allowing you to carry more than two might be too much like fun, and that’s not allowed.

The space bar is used for jump, hide and run, and there’s no discernable way to tell which it’s going to do. The middle mouse button is used for magic shield and magic attack (they don’t call it that, but that’s basically what it is), and there’s no discernable way to tell what it’s going to do. The magic attack is powered by some magic goo that you have to collect, and about two attacks use up all your goo, so what’s the point?

Since it is a multiplayer game at heart, playing single player means you’re lumbered with three artificially stupid team-mates. The tutorial also demonstrates the really limited order system you can use to work around that artificial stupidity, but who wants to be forced to command bots in a shooter game?

There’s a lot of plot twaddle. And more plot twaddle. And something about a meteorite or something. I don’t know, because I was sick of cut-scenes and skipped it all. Not to mention that the horrible flickering in one of the cut-scenes threatened to give me an epilepsy attack. Then more cut-scenes. Then you get to walk slowly to some weird capsule thing. Then there are more cut-scenes.

So, you’re playing some super-elite soldier babe, and the tutorial has introduced you to a number of weapons that you can use, so what do you think it’s going to do now? Yes, you guessed it, it’s going to take all those weapons away from you and leave you with a pistol. Because having the weapons you want to use might be too much like fun.

Since it’s a third-person cover shooter, you spend a lot of time either being shot because you can’t go into cover behind things that are clearly quite suitable as cover, and being shot because you can’t get out of cover mode and move to where you want to move. It’s at least as bad as the awful Mass Effect games, and probably worse.

Oh, yeah, and since it’s a third person game, you also spend a lot of time shooting bullets into the wall right in front of you when you have to shoot around something the game won’t count as cover.

This is followed by walking into an area, being attacked by about a million identical, moronic bad guys, thanking the bad guys for leaving ammunition boxes randomly strewn around, but still running out and having to pick up some random weapon because you can only carry two. Then defend the area for five minutes while a thousand indistinguishable bots run toward you. Then hack a door (translation: hold ‘E’ for a few seconds) before moving onto the next area.

Then there’s a cut-scene where some guy spews some plot-twaddle, and you do the same thing again.

And crates. Did I mention crates? The one surprise in the game was walking into a few areas with crates and thinking ‘ha, there are crates, so clearly I’m going to get attacked and have to take cover’… only to not be attacked. Wow.

I should also mention that the reason you run out of ammunition is because the indistinguishable bad guys take about three thousand hits each to kill. You keep blasting away at them from close range with an assault rifle, and, after you kill half a dozen, no more bullets.

Then there’s lack of a save system. It randomly saves at checkpoints, so, if you get bored and want to quit, be prepared to have to fight through the same mob of identical enemies again to get back to where you were.

I could go on, but I quit before finishing the first level. From the screenshots, it looks like things might get interesting later on, but I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to play through the boring parts to get there.

It’s not an awful game, it didn’t crash, it doesn’t expect you to pay to win, but it’s just mediocre. Everything it does has been done before, and done better.

We’ve been test-driving CUVs lately, so I thought I’d comment on some.

Nissan have had some problems with CVT reliability–a few years ago, they had to increase the warranty to ten years due to CVT failures–but claim to have resolved them. That was one black mark against the Rogue, but the reviews were good enough to make it worth a look.

One thing I immediately noticed on sitting in the passenger seat was that it feels small, and not in a good way. The exterior is a similar size to competitive CUVs, but the interior feels cramped, as though they’ve concentrated on exterior styling over interior comfort. Other than size, the interior does feel more modern than the Honda CR-V, and more up-market than the Subaru Forester.

The top-down camera is kind of neat, but only available on the high-end models. On the mid-range SV model, you have to buy the optional third row of seats–suitable only for dwarves–or it’s available on the top of the range SL model with two rows. Since it is a feature I haven’t seen on any competitor, I don’t really understand why they make it such an expensive option or force you to buy the extra row of seats if you want it in a cheaper model.

The cargo storage is well thought out, with dividers that allow you to temporarily create shelves or split the cargo space to prevent items rolling around. I wish other CUV manufacturers would do something similar. On the subject of the third row of seats, they do fold into the floor to give more cargo space, but that costs you the spare wheel.

However, on the road, it’s not so good. Ride has the usual CUV faults, and, at times, I found myself wondering whether I would actually make it around the corner I’d entered. Acceleration feels slow, and the CVT is loud and monotonous when accelerating, though not too bad when you reach a constant speed.

Visibility is so-so, not hard to see out the front, but the tiny rear quarter windows were blocked by the rear headrests, leaving a substantial blindspot. The rear-view camera helps with parking, but not with lane changes. I believe lane-change monitoring is available as an option, but glass is more reliable.

What really put us off, however, were the seats. Most of the reviews I read mentioned how comfortable they are, so I was suprised that they seemed uncomfortable within a few minutes of sitting down. A longer drive didn’t make them feel any better, and I couldn’t imagine driving in them for hours on the highway.

So, overall, one CUV that gets good reviews but doesn’t seem as good in real life. It does seem well-equipped for the price, and if you’re the right size and shape for the seats, it’s probably a good deal. Unfortunately, not for us.

So, I went through the whole reformatting thing for Space Weasels, uploaded it to Smashwords, and two days later ‘I see your NCX isn’t formed correctly in the EPUB file.’

Uh, what?

I’d already downloaded it the previous day and verified that the table of contents showed the same entries as The One That Got Away. So exactly what is supposed to be wrong with it?

Who knows? How can I tell? All I get is a pointer to go and read the style guide.

I honestly think I’m going to have to pull all my books off the site before long, because it’s such a damn pain in the ass to deal with.

Edit: I’m sure I shouldn’t need to add that their response to my support inquiry asking what they thought the problem was did not tell me what the problem was, and just pointed me to the same formatting guides which provide no information as to what they think the problem might be. So I’m left having to upload randomly modified versions of the file and hope that they eventually accept one.

This is just stupid. They’ll spend far more time reviewing fifteen versions of the file than just telling me what they don’t like about the table of contents.

Seems to be getting worse; now there’s flashing red crap on the screen, and I sometimes have to boot fifteen times to get a screen that isn’t all green.

Any time I boot into hardware-accelerated mode, whereas it displays fine when booting as a dumb framebuffer. Sadly, I tried the Mint 17 LiveCD, and, if anything, it’s even worse.

So, warning to the wise: if you’re buying a new laptop, don’t get one with Intel integrated graphics.

So there I was today, driving home from my day job, rolling along in a rush hour traffic queue. On the left was some piece of junk with a cloud of smoke billowing out behind it, alternately passing me and dropping behind as the queues moved at different speeds.

Then we passed the last of the stop lights and were able to get up to nearly the highway speed limit. The PoJ GTi passed me, followed by a minivan. Which proceeded to drive about six feet behind it at 80km/h.

Now, tailgating is stupid at the best of times, but what kind of brain-dead zombie would drive that close to a car that’s burning more oil than gas, with the combustion fumes going straight into their air intake? I’d already switched my car to recirculating the air because I didn’t want it full of burning oil smell.

Do people think at all on the roads around here?

Arrived on my Nexus 7 today. I can’t see any obvious difference, but it was only supposed to be a bug-fix release. Download and install was pretty fast, so I doubt much changed.

So, I finally uploaded The One That Got Away to Smashwords. I’d been putting it off, because the site is such a pain to use compared to Amazon; I have to completely reformat it into their own special Smashwords format so it can then reformat that into the other file types. Even on a short story, that takes half an hour or more, whereas running my conversion script for Amazon takes five seconds.

Did that, and, lo! Rejected because Smashwords’ converter had decided to mark every single paragraph as a new chapter in the table of contents.

Why? Who knows.

Tried fiddling with a few things and uploading, and it was still wrong.

Copied-and-pasted the text into a copy of the Welcome To The Future document I uploaded a few months ago, and lo! Everything works perfectly.

Why? Who knows.

I could upload a perfectly good epub, but then they won’t convert it into all the other files they sell on their web site, so I’m stuck with using Word documents. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s just too much hassle to bother with.

Edit: I believe I figured this out. Rather than doing something sensible, such as looking for heading styles to indicate the beginning of a chapter, Smashwords appears to assume that any text formatted with a style that contains the word ‘chapter’ is a new chapter. Since I use ‘Chapter Text’ for the generic text in a new chapter… each one becomes a new chapter. When I cut-and-pasted it, the text reverted to ‘Text Body’, which it’s now happy with.

What a pain.

More on the ‘post-scarcity’ nonsense:

Convicted with thirteen life sentences, and thirteen five year sentences for using an imitation firearm in an armed robbery.

You’d think he’d be in prison for the rest of his life, wouldn’t you?

Not in Britain.

Testing a new theme. The old one I’ve used for a long time always seemed a bit dark to me, so I’ll see if this one is better; at the least, it supports embedded Youtube videos, which the old one didn’t.

So, I bought a new laptop and it’s just about working. It’s a Toshiba L70-A-04g, which was the best option I could find in a local store. Mostly because of the 17″ screen, because I wanted something that would fit more text than the old 15″, but also because it has a HDD cover underneath, while the 15″ models I looked at typically required removing sixteen screws and then pushing a credit card in around the edge to unlatch the entire base.

It kind of works. I removed the Windows 8 HDD and installed my Linux SSD from the old laptop, then configured the BIOS to legacy boot, and… ended up at a black screen. Mint 16 doesn’t understand the backlight, so I had to add acpi_backlight=vendor to the boot command.

Unfortunately it also doesn’t work properly with the HD4600 Intel video driver. In the past, buying a machine that’s all-Intel has been the safest option, but not here. There’s a lot of video corruption as the driver starts, and some flickering pixels at the top of the screen. I suspect it’s a video timing bug that’s been fixed in the 3.15 kernel, but that won’t hit Mint for several months. The other option is to run in VESA mode, but then you’re stuck with software rendering and the CPU running flat out for video playback.

The touchpad is abysmal, for some reason they’ve combined the mouse buttons into the touchpad, they take a heck of a force to click, and, if you click one while your finger is on the touchpad, you have to lift your finger and put it back down to get the touchpad to recognize it again. The old one was far better.

So, it appears Libreoffice is now crashing regularly for no obvious reason, with a segmentation fault in; it seems to be a known bug that’s been around for months with no fix. This is particularly annoying because I save the file, do something, it crashes, and, when I restart it, the file I load is not the one I saved.

Since it’s crashed three times in the last fifteen minutes, this makes writing pretty damn tiresome right now. I presume it’s somehow graphics driver related, because it didn’t happen on the old laptop, but happens regularly on this one. That said, it’s also happened on my desktop machine at work.

Someone suggested uninstalling Java, and, since I did that, it hasn’t crashed. Which is weird, because I had the Java integration disabled before then. It may just be a coincidence.

It’s out now. As mentioned before, I have two short stories in this charity anthology:

Time to buy a new car soon, before my girlfriend’s Buick hits twenty years old. So I went to take a look at the current price of the Civic, in case we decide to buy one.

So far:

* The web page has no scroll bar, so the right-hand edge is impossible to reach on a small screen.
* The ‘build and price’ appears to be some Flash crap, which brings up a box on Linux saying ‘an error occurs’.
* The ‘build and price’ doesn’t work at all on Android, because there’s no Flash.
* I haven’t tried it, but the ‘build and price’ probably doesn’t work at all on the iPad, because there’s no Flash.
* There’s no contact email to ask if they realize this.

Who designed this web site? Why did they make one that apparently only works on Windows?

Book cover

I have two (very) short stories in a charity anthology: Something To Take On The Trip. This is the third in a trilogy of short story anthologies for charity, and this time includes stories by David Gerrold and a couple of other SF writers you may have heard of. The stories are in multiple genres and intended for a quick read on the bus or train.

Take a look and buy a copy when it comes out in a few days.

I’m so glad to see that, while the economy collapses around them, the EU can still find time to… mandate a universal smartphone charger.

So, we’ll be stuck with Micro-USB chargers until the EU goes bust. which, fortunately, probably won’t take long.

So, I happened to spot my Planet Of The Apes (60s/70s version) Blu-Ray collection lying under the cupboard and thought I’d watch the first movie.

What I’d forgotten was that it doesn’t work. The disk starts, there’s an animated ape, then a log, then it goes to a black screen with all the buttons disabled.

I remember there was a way to get past that, but can’t remember what it was. I tried numerous buttons, but nothing worked. Then I tried for about the fifth time, and suddenly I was at the main menu; the only thing I did differently was keep hitting the skip button, but maybe that was a coincidence.

Does anyone know how to make this disk actually play? This kind of crap is why I rarely buy Blu-Rays any more.

Edit: this time, pressing ‘Top Menu’ on the remote when the ape started speaking seemed to do it. I suspect, though, it’s just random, so sometimes it gets through the animated menu startup and sometimes it doesn’t.

Tufty by the wheel.

Tufty in the travel cage.

New Hamster has now become Tufty Bear, or Tufty for short, mostly because her long hair makes her look like a bear, and the longer tufts on her butt and behind her ears. For a while, we had to keep her in the small travel cage, because, any time we put her in the big cage, she’d climb up onto the balcony and jump off. However, we eventually decided we should remove the balcony and hammock so she could just live in the bottom. That seems to have calmed her down somewhat, and we don’t often see her performing acrobatics.

Yes, that is spaghetti. I’ve never found a hamster who wouldn’t drop most of their other foods for a piece of spaghetti, and have no idea why.